Cracks in the Glass Ceiling: An Analysis of Gender Equity in the Federal Government Auditing Career Field

By Baker, Bud; Lightle, Susan S. | The Journal of Government Financial Management, Fall 2001 | Go to article overview

Cracks in the Glass Ceiling: An Analysis of Gender Equity in the Federal Government Auditing Career Field


Baker, Bud, Lightle, Susan S., The Journal of Government Financial Management


An Analysis of Gender Equity in the Federal Government Auditing Career Field

When the Federal Glass Ceiling Commission was established by the Civil Rights Act of 1991, its mission was to assess the barriers hindering "the advancement of women and minorities to management and decision-- making positions:' and to make recommendations toward bringing down such barriers.1

This article assesses the progress made in one area of the federal government since the 1991 Civil Rights Act, and the establishment in that year of the Federal Glass Ceiling Commission (FGCC). Specifically, this article looks at the federal government's auditing career field, and assesses the changes in gender composition not just of the field as a whole, but also and especially the changes, by gender, in its managerial ranks?

Defining the Glass Ceiling The term glass ceiling was first used in a 1986 Wall Street journal article, referring to invisible barriers that impeded the career advancement of women in the American work force? In more recent years, the term has come to include underrepresented minority groups,' but the focus of much of the FGCC report, and of this article as well, is on the gender aspect of employment equity.

The federal work force of the 1990s reflected national trends, in that federal career fields have typically displayed disproportionately high numbers of women in lower ranks, and disproportionately low numbers of women at more senior levels. For example, in 1990, the year prior to the establishment of the FGCC, only 6.2 percent of federally employed women were at or above the level of upper-middle management (GS-13 and above) yet male representation was more than four times as high, with nearly 28 percent of males in the GS-13 and above category.5

Faced with this stark imbalance, the FGCC recommended that government lead by example:

Government at all levels must be a leader in the quest to make equal opportunity a reality for minorities and women. The commission recommends that all government agencies, as employers, increase their efforts to eliminate internal glass ceilings by examining their practices for promoting qualified minorities and women to senior management and decision-making positions.6

Women in AuditingPrivate and Public Sectors

Within the auditing career field, there exist three primary career paths: external, internal and governmental auditing. The progress of women in governmental auditing should be considered in the context of the auditing profession in general.

External auditing is an attestation service performed by independent CPA firms, while internal auditing is an assurance and consulting activity designed to add value to an organization's operations. In both these areas, the status of women has been a concern. Women have equaled or exceeded the number of male accounting graduates since 1992,(7) and the number of women and men entering the external audit field has been roughly equal since the mid-1980s Yet women remain underrepresented in senior leadership positions: in 1997, only 16 percent of CPA firm partners were female.' In 1998, only 23 percent of internal auditing directors were women.10

Governmental accounting, which is the focus of this article, includes financial and performance audits of governmental organizations and nongovernmental entities that receive governmental financial support." In 1991, the US Department of Defense was, by far, the largest user of auditing professionals, employing more than 55 percent of federal auditors. After the Defense Department, the next largest auditing work forces were in the Treasury Department (7.1 percent of all federal auditors) and Health and Human Services (55 percent)." These numbers changed only modestly between 1991 and 1998.

The General Schedule (GS) is the basic pay schedule for white collar jobs in the federal government. This schedule of annual rates of pay consists of 15 grades, designated "GS-1" through "GS-- 15" with 10 levels of pay for each grade. …

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Cracks in the Glass Ceiling: An Analysis of Gender Equity in the Federal Government Auditing Career Field
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